South Arcot District (Madras Presidency)

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Map of South Arcot district in 1861

South Arcot was a district in the Madras Presidency of British India. It covered the area of the present-day districts of Cuddalore, Viluppuram and Thiruvannamalai in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The district was divided into eight taluks and covered a total area of 5,217 square miles (13,510 km2). The administrative headquarters was the town of Cuddalore.

In ancient times, South Arcot was a part of the Chola and the Pallava kingdoms. British presence in the district dates to 1690 when the British East India Company set up a factory at Fort St David near Cuddalore. South Arcot was the scene of confrontation between the British and the French and the British and Tipu Sultan. The British took over the administration in 1781 and established full sovereignty in 1801.

The economy is largely agricultural. South Arcot is not noteworthy for mineral wealth.


In ancient times, the northern part of South Arcot was under the rule of the Pallavas while the southern part was a portion of the traditional Chola homeland. In the 14th century, South Arcot was conquered by the Delhi Sultanate and later, by Vijayanagar kings. In 1646, South Arcot came under the Bijapur sultans who ruled till 1676, when it was conquered by the Marathas. In 1698, the Mughal Emperor Aurangazeb took Gingee and established his rule over South Arcot.

The British presence dates back to 1682, when the British East India Company established a factory at Cuddalore and Kanimedu. When these two failed, the Company set up another factory at Fort St David near Cuddalore. Fort St David served as the temporary capital of Madras Presidency from 1746 onwards when Madras was taken by the French East India Company, till 1752. Cuddalore was taken by the French from 1758 to 1760, when it was retaken by the British. From 1767 to 1790, Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan launched repeated attacks on the region.

Complete sovereignty over the region was given to the British by the Nawab of the Carnatic in 1801. The district of South Arcot was created as a part of Madras Presidency at about this time.


South Arcot was sub-divided into four sub-divisions:

  • Pennathur sub-division: Tindivanam taluk, Tiruvannamalai (partly: pennathur) taluk and Villupuram taluk.
  • Tirukkoyilur sub-division: Kallakurichi taluk and Tirukkoyilur taluk.
  • Chidambaram sub-division: Chidambaram and Vriddhachalam taluks
  • Cuddalore sub-division: Cuddalore taluk.


As of 1901, South Arcot was sub-divided into eight taluks:

  • Chidambaram (Area: 402 square miles (1,040 km2); Headquarters: Chidambaram)
  • Cuddalore (Area: 448 square miles (1,160 km2); Headquarters: Cuddalore)
  • Kallakurichi (Area: 873 square miles (2,260 km2); Headquarters: Kallakurichi)
  • Tindivanam (Area: 816 square miles (2,110 km2); Headquarters: Tindivanam)
  • Tirukkoyilur (Area: 584 square miles (1,510 km2); Headquarters: Tirukkoyilur)
  • Tiruvannamalai (Area: 1,009 square miles (2,610 km2); Headquarters: Tiruvannamalai)
  • Villupuram (Area: 509 square miles (1,320 km2); Headquarters: Villupuram)
  • Vriddhachalam (Area: 576 square miles (1,490 km2); Headquarters: Vriddhachalam)


South Arcot had a population of 2,349,894 in 1901 and was the third most populous district in Madras Presidency. 94 percent of the population were Hindus while 3 percent were Muslims and 3 percent Christian, of whom, 92 percent were Roman Catholics. Tamil is the vernacular of the district, but there are also large numbers of Telugu-speaking people.


The economy of the district is largely agricultural. Attempts were made in the early part of the 19th century to establish iron mines at Porto Novo but failed due to lack of fuel. The most important industrial units in the district were the East India Distilleries factories at Nellikuppam and Thiruvennanallur. Chidambaram was an important centre of cotton and silk weaving.


  • The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume 5. London: Clarendon Press. 1908.